In 1961, at the age of 38, Roy Lichtenstein painted Look Mickey. This work would set the course of his career and we will be showing it at the beginning of the upcoming exhibition at Tate Modern. This was the first time Lichtenstein copied cartoon characters, in particular Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck from his sons’ Little Golden Book.
Within a couple of years, Lichtenstein would become one of the foremost American Pop artists. In the early 1960’s his work broke with the canon of Abstract Expressionism – the style in vogue in America – with a new concept of painting inspired by industrial printing processes and subject matter taken from comic books and advertising imagery.
The adoption of the Pop style would bring him international acclaim; so much so an art critic even wrote that, for most of the world, Lichtenstein ‘was born’ at the Leo Castelli gallery in 1962 at an exhibition that provoked opposite reactions of horror and delight from its visitors.
Today it seems hard to imagine the shock that these works produced at the time. Lichtenstein appropriated commercials and comics, monumentalizing images of consumerism and domesticity idiosyncratic to the American landscape, such as the below dead-pan single object painting Tire 1962. There will be a room in Tate Modern’s show devoted to this series of black and white paintings, characterized by the clarity and refinement of their composition.
Lichtenstein’s early Pop work featured an entirely new style based on reproduction, appropriation and parody, mimicking the techniques and styles of printed matter, but without ever renouncing the traditional hand-painted canvas. He continued to draw inspiration from this tension between fine art and commercial art throughout his career.
Whilst many of his most iconic Pop paintings have paradoxically been widely reproduced since, there is always something revelatory in experiencing them in the flesh. Nothing can replace standing in front of the works themselves and this exhibition will offer a unique opportunity to do so. The ambiguities brought about by these hand-painted images, which look as if they were made by a machine, are truly remarkable.